When Alanna Curran thinks back to eight years ago, she describes meeting and marrying the love of her life as “a typical military romance.”
Though they attended the same high school in New York and graduated in the same year, Alanna didn’t officially meet James “Jimmy” Curran until January of 2010.
Then, it was a whirlwind.
They dated for five months before Jimmy, a Navy Seabee, was notified that he would be deployed again in August to Afghanistan and Mozul as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. He had already deployed to Iraq and Haiti, earning numerous medals along the way.
Before leaving on this deployment, Jimmy surprised Alanna with a craft table that included an organizer.
In it, he’d placed an engagement ring.
When she found it, he made his way to her on his hands and knees and popped the question.
“When you know, you just really know,” Alanna reflects. “I remember I was sitting in his truck after he picked me up from the train. I just knew he was ‘the one.’”
She replied with “duh,” the same way she had when he’d asked her to be his girlfriend.
After Jimmy deployed to the Middle East, the couple wrote “old school, handwritten letters” and emails every day to stay in touch. And, rather than moving back home for support, as many military spouses and girlfriends often do during deployment, Alanna stayed in Virginia in couple’s shared apartment off-base, and continued working at Harley Davidson where she had many friends.
Seven long months later, Jimmy returned from deployment and the pair couldn’t wait a minute longer.
“He came home and we said, ‘let’s just get married,” laughs Alanna.
So they did.
They couple went straight to the courthouse and eloped in their jeans and T-shirts on March 28, 2011, and decided to plan a family wedding in New York later that fall.
Riding into the Future
Life was good. They were together and while they were in no hurry to start a family, it was a bright spot they looked forward to in the future. They loved riding motorcycles together, Alanna riding since she was 6 and Jimmy, dirt bikes since he was a kid. He bought his own motorcycle at 23 and they participated in fundraising rides for causes like autism. They dreamed of traveling together and growing up together. After all, they were only 24 years old.
But, on April 15, 2012, everything came crashing down.
While riding in Virginia Beach, Jimmy was in a horrific crash that left him on life support in the hospital. The impact had severely impacted his brain and doctors broke the news that there was no activity.
Alanna made the heart-wrenching decision to take him off life support.
“I kind of say I lost my future” in that moment, says Alanna.
The days following were a blur. Jimmy was buried back home in New York. Alanna leaned on her family’s support and simply existed on “autopilot.”
Slowly, she began to heal, first returning to Virginia, back to their life.
She remained in Virginia for another two years, finding comfort being around her military family and the base, feeling like she was a part of “something greater than myself.”
She was introduced to TAPS – Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors – an organization dedicated to helping the family members of active military members killed in action or other circumstances sift through the layers of grief.
Now, she’s offering support to six other military widows facing similar circumstances.
“I try my best to give them positive hope,” shares Alanna. “At first, when you look a few months out, you think life will be such a horrible thing. I try to show them and tell them that you can turn something so horrible into a reason to live.”
For Alanna, it was embracing life.
“Since Jimmy can’t live, I’m living for him, in honor of him,” explains Alanna. “I don’t know when the flip occurred, but it has helped turned something so negative into a positive force.”
That meant pursuing nutrition and fitness. Hiking and a bachelor’s degree in human development and psychology. Completing steps in a journey that was on hold for a very long time.
“Because of him and the GI Bill, I can graduate with my Master’s degree,” she says. “I hope I can help other widows and survivors find those reasons to live, too.”
Creating New Memories
During this journey, Alanna was craving a new creative outlet that also allowed her to make extra money.
Through a random Google search, she stumbled across Origami Owl® custom jewelry and immediately fell in love with the miniature Charms.
She quickly started her own Origami Owl business as a Designer in October of 2016, and began taking her Origami Owl jewelry to events and marveling at how open complete strangers would be, sharing their deepest stories with her to create meaningful Living Lockets®.
Her Origami Owl business helps her to financially cover payments on her “baby,” a shiny black Jeep, along with other bills around the apartment, which is now in New York not far from where Jimmy was laid to rest.
On specific days, like Jimmy’s birthday in April, Alanna creates a special Locket to wear and remember him. It might have an American Flag. A Navy Charm. A Four-Leaf Clover Charm in honor of Jimmy’s Irish heritage. A letter “J” Charm or an “A” Charm.
It’s a quiet expression she can reflect on throughout the day, honor him and keep him just a little closer.
And she has advice for other widows walking through the same valleys she has.
“No matter how horrible it feels right now, things will get better and you’ll learn to live again,” she says. “You’ll be a new person with your new experiences, but you’ll be just as great and just as strong.”